GuidesUser experience (UX)What is a UI developer? Ultimate guide (2024)

What is a UI developer? Ultimate guide (2024)

Last updated

28 February 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

User interface (UI) developers create the elements of an app, game, website, or other technological product, that users interact with. They turn a UI designer’s ideas into user-friendly, interactive elements, ensuring that customers have a smooth, seamless experience.

In this ultimate guide, we will discuss the responsibilities of UI developers, current salaries, how you can become a UI developer, and the employment outlook for the role.

What is UI design?

UI design is the stage before UI development. It is the creation of a user interface's interactive and aesthetic elements that dictate usability, ease of navigation, and how clients interact with a technological product such as an app, game, or website. This includes:

  • Designing and positioning buttons, icons, and other interactive components

  • Layout

  • Color scheme

  • Font

  • Overall visual style of the interface

A UI designer plans an intuitive, easy-to-use interface that allows people to efficiently explore and engage with the product. A well-designed user interface can enhance the user experience and make it easier for users to achieve their goals and for companies to build brand trust.

A good UI design also takes into account the preferences and needs of the target audience and the environment in which the product or service will be used.

What is a UI developer?

A UI developer is a software engineer or web developer specializing in creating and maintaining a digital user interface. A UI developer is responsible for converting design concepts into practical, functional elements. UI developers may also test and debug the UI to verify that it works properly and is responsive across multiple devices, operating systems, and browsers.

UI developers are often employed at technology companies as you might imagine, but modern companies across all industries could potentially have their own internal needs for developers.

To be a successful UI developer, you must be proficient in front-end web development languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, and have a general concept of user experience (UX) design concepts.

What does a UI developer do?

A UI developer's role is to turn static UI designs into interactive front-end architecture, ensuring pixel-perfect implementation on specified devices. They could also provide input during the design process to improve interfaces.

Tasks can vary depending on the organization and size of the team, but some typical responsibilities include:

  • UI prototyping: Creating code-based models of the user interface to test and refine the design

  • Coding and implementing: Using languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to create the visual elements of the user interface and ensure that it is functional and responsive

  • Collaborating with UX designers: Working with user-experience designers to develop a user interface that is intuitive and easy to use

  • Using version control systems: Collaborating with other developers and tracking changes to the user interface using version control systems (VCS, GitHub)

  • Style library: Providing a style library of reusable elements, colors, and components that all follow brand guidelines and ensure consistency across the platform

  • UI testing and debugging: Making sure the user interface is free of errors and functions properly across different devices, operating systems, and browsers

  • User interface problem-solving: Identifying and troubleshooting issues with the user interface

  • Internal and external communication: Communicating effectively with UI designers and clients to ensure the user interface meets their needs and expectations

How do UI developers differ from front-end developers?

The terms "front-end" and "UI" have similar meanings, which can lead to confusion, and they are often used interchangeably in the world of web and applications.

“Front-end” is the set of development languages used to develop the user interface as opposed to “back-end” which is the different set of languages used to develop a platform’s behaviors and data processes. The front-end is concerned with all the elements of an app or website that a user interacts with, including non-designed elements. The back-end is what chugs away behind the scenes, doing tasks that the user doesn’t need to be aware of.

“UI” falls under “front-end”, but refers more specifically to elements of the design that the user interacts with, e.g. buttons, navigation, etc.

To add to the confusion, UI designers are sometimes called UI developers, as it has become an industry standard to use "front-end" for development roles and "UI" for design roles.

In smaller teams, the distinction is arguably less important as one person may perform more than one role (e.g. the same person may be the UI designer and UI developer), but in larger companies, or as a team grows, it becomes increasingly important to distinguish between the roles. 

For small projects, a full-stack developer can handle both design and development, but larger projects may require the expertise of a UI designer. Ideally, UI designers should have an understanding of front-end technologies, but this is not essential. Developers typically earn more than designers, but market competition and the significance of design can lead to higher rates for designers.

As companies often use these terms interchangeably, if you’re looking for a UI developer role, search on the term “front-end developer” as well. It may even be worth your while searching on “UI designer” too if you also have design skills. If you’re applying for a role that is described as either a “front-end developer” or a “UI developer”, read the job description carefully.

What is a UI developer's salary?

According to Glassdoor, the median salary for UI developers in the US is $73,500 per year. This can vary depending on:

  • Location

  • Industry

  • Experience

  • Specific skills

For example, UI developers with advanced skills in specific technologies or design software may earn higher salaries. Salary can also vary significantly depending on the type of company you work for, with startups and smaller companies generally offering lower salaries than larger, more established companies.

Like many tech roles, UI developers may be eligible for bonuses, stock options, and other incentives in addition to their base income, depending on the firm. The income of freelance UI developers will be determined by the type and quantity of projects they take on.

How to become a UI developer

There is no single path to becoming a UI developer, but certain steps can help you achieve this goal:

  • Gain a solid foundation in front-end web development technologies. This includes languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

  • Build a strong portfolio. Showcase your skills and experience with projects you've worked on as part of your education or on your own, as well as any relevant internships or freelance work.

  • Exhibit your work. Demonstrate your development skills and code prowess on community sites like CodePen or Stack Overflow to continue learning, while building your personal brand and following.

  • Consider getting a bachelor's degree. While a degree is not required to become a UI developer, many employers prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree in computer science, software engineering, or a related field.

  • Stay up to date with the latest technologies and best practices. This can be achieved through ongoing training and professional development, such as attending conferences or workshops, taking online courses, or participating in online communities.

UI developers with design skills

Strictly speaking, UI developers and UI designers carry out different tasks, as we’ve already discussed. However, if you are a UI developer with a background in design, or if you’ve developed your design skills along the way, you can be a major asset to your team.

It is common in smaller teams to find someone who carries out both roles, but even if a separate UI designer exists in your team, a UI developer with design knowledge can oil the wheels of a project.

A UI developer with design skills bridges the information and experiential gaps between the design and development stages of the project. Let’s look at the key advantages:

  • They are skilled in aesthetics and functionality, allowing them to bring a product's design to life in a visually appealing, easy-to-use way

  • Their general understanding of UI design principles enables them to create intuitive interfaces that cater to the needs and wants of the target audience

  • They can create responsive designs that adapt to different devices and environments, ensuring a consistent, seamless user experience

  • They are a cross-functional team member who can plug communication gaps and reduce friction between design and development teams

  • They confidently create designs they can quickly and efficiently develop themselves

What is the employment outlook for UI developers?

The demand for UI developers is expected to continue growing in the coming years, as businesses increasingly prioritize user-friendly design and the use of technology expands. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of web developers—including UI developers—is projected to grow by 8% from 2020 to 2029. This is faster than the average growth rate for all occupations.

In summary

UI developers, or front-end developers, play a critical role in the creation of user-friendly digital products and services. They work closely with UI designers and other developers to create visually appealing and easy-to-use interfaces and are responsible for integrating the UI with the underlying functionality of the product or service.

To become a UI developer, you need a strong foundation in front-end web development technologies and an understanding of UX design concepts. The demand for UI developers is expected to continue growing in the coming years, making it a promising career field for those interested.

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